Word count: 4,094
Drink of Choice: Taboo – Vodka and Blueberry Soda. Don’t ask. No, really. And Stella Artois.
Characters/Pairing: Giles/Ethan/ um… with a bit of Xander for good measure. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Rating: FRM (I think)
Summary: Everything comes together. It’s the same day as when they first met oh so many years ago. And on a more sobering note, it’s also the anniversary of Randal’s death, and their falling out, too. And as the continuance of their relationship from that night in the pub, which was now a good eight years ago. What better was to mark the occasion than a few quiet drinks?
Dedication/Challenge/Prompt: Prompt #34. Rupert Giles/Ethan Rayne. This one can be friendship (I know, I know) or slash. Set in the future when they're old farts and decide they want to turn water into wine and indulge in a little oneupmanship as to who can produce the best vintage. Bonus points if a Scoobie of your choice drops in unannounced and gets sucked into multiple wine-tastings ... or more!
Blood Of Lions
Bloody hell, when did the sun get so bright?
And it was through both the closed curtain, and his tightly shut eyelids too.
His head was fuzzy, and his mouth was dry.
And god forbid, but he was reasonably sure that he wasn’t wearing so much as a stich.
It was the sort of hang-over that only ever came from a night spent of the wine, in his long experience. Experience, which ought to really have told him to stare clear of scenarios such as the one which had played out last night.
A soft groan sounded from somewhere to his left, and yet he was sure that he could hear Ethan’s shallow snoring from somewhere in the area of where his muzzy senses told him that the couch lay. Even though the man still swore black and blue that he did no such thing.
Without daring to open his eyes he reached out a tentative hand, and brushed against a chest that was slightly more muscular than Ethan’s had any right to be.
And everything that his brain had been trying to shut out came flooding back.
Not moving again seemed as though it were the best idea that he’d come up with during all of the last twenty-four hour period.
“Christ,” he groaned to himself, wishing that he could go back to sleep and forget about it all again. Because when the other two members of the impromptu party were conscious again then he didn’t think that things would be able to get much more awkward.
~-~The Previous Evening~-~
It was quiet when he let himself into their home, and this, in itself was unusual. Ethan wasn’t the type to stand by the whole silence is golden idea, but it was, he had to admit if only to himself, a nice surprise.
Unlike the surprise he’d gotten when he’d walked into a tiny swarm of fire-breathing butterflies just last months (he didn’t want to know how that had happened) or when he’d found a three headed cat curled up on the couch last year (that wouldn’t have been so bad if the damned thing hadn’t been savage). Although, aside from these tiny spots of magick, his self-elected houseguests had been surprisingly well behaved.
And he stood there for a few moments, simply enjoying it, before he came to the moment where he had to admit to himself that, as welcome as the peace was, it was also equally unnerving.
Stepped inside, and pulled the door closed behind him, before calling out to the silence, which was feeling heaver by the second, “Ethan?”
Because there was always that slim possibility that…
“In here, Rue,” came the reply from in the direction of the sitting room.
And of course he didn’t let out the breath that he hadn’t been holding for the last thirty seconds, as he hung his coat on the doorhandle, and headed into the sitting room, to find Ethan sitting on the couch, hand wrapped around a wine-glass that was filled with what was apparently water, a book of some sort opened in front of him, and a look of fierce concentration on his face.
He raised an eyebrow, only because he was certain that it wouldn’t be noticed.
“And you’re doing what, precisely?”
Rather than reply he countered the question with another, “You remember what today is?”
“Of course. Not planning on repeating old patters and walking out again, were we?”
This got him a tiny hint of grin, “Only if I thought that I could persuade you to come with me.”
“Well, if you were planning on starting this early…” he let the statement carry itself. It was nice to be able to talk without that chill that had tainted things for so long between them.
He crossed over, and settled himself down on the footstool which had been placed on the opposite side of the coffee table for this precise purpose, wincing as his knees threatened to pop, “And you still haven’t answered my question. I’ve noticed.”
“Ah. Yes, well. You remember how we used to play around with a spot of transmogrification, every now and then?”
“Well, I wanted a glass of Chateau Mouton Rothschild. You know, that 1945 stuff that we managed to nick a bottle of before…well, you know. Though it’d be appropriate. Anyway, I figured I’d try to conjure a glass of it, but I’m not having much luck. Seem to keep on turning out low-grade vinegar, with just enough alcohol content to keep the damned stuff drinkable,” he heaved a sigh, “the sad truth is, Rupert, that I’m out of practise.”
He couldn’t help the bark of laughter. He honestly couldn’t, “Still can’t figure out how we got away with that one. And the reason you’ve a fine wine list in front of you, is…”
Ethan shrugged, “Thought I’d do things properly?”
“Yes, well,” he could see that Ethan was preparing himself for the tried and true lecture on using magick for self-centred reasons, but he just couldn’t find it in himself. Not this time. Forestalling what could easily turn into a fight, if only a minor one he nodded, “doesn’t actually sound like a bad idea. And, coming from you, I feel safe in saying that I’ve heard far worse.”
“Good in theory, at least,” Ethan hid his surprise, and held out the glass of once-water, which had turned a deep, attractive shade of red over the last few minutes.
He rose the glass, and took a tiny sip… which was spat straight back into the glass, “My god, you’re trying to poison me. You’ve been at this since…?”
“One o’clock,” he looked apologetic.
“And it’s now eight. So, you’ve been at this for the last seven hours, and this is the best you’ve got to show?” He handed the glass back, watching as Ethan took his own small mouthful of the dread brew.
“Hmm. Actually better than the last three lots.”
“Honestly, love. I could do better than that. And that’s saying something.”
Ethan poured the glass into a bucket which obviously contained the rest of the failed results, and refilled the glass with water, after swirling a few drops around to wash it out. This, he handed over, an expression of doubt on his face, “You think so, do you?”
Rupert took the glass, and closed his eyes, focusing inwards on his power, and on turning just a hint of it out. Kept the image of the result that he wanted in mind, and kept the amount of energy very carefully measured. And after about ten minutes of concentration the water was beginning to look more like it ought to. Still, he didn’t hand it over. Instead, he turned his focus to the amount of time that had passed between 1945 and now.
And felt his fingers come together.
Surprised, he opened his eyes, only to find Ethan staring at his hand, shoulders shaking. And a fine dust coating his fingers and covering his lap.
“What the hell do you call that, then? At least mine was still some form of drink.”
“I was trying to age it appropriately,” he confessed.
“Just don’t try that one on me, please,” he grinned, “I happen to enjoy still looking… alive.”
“Don’t you trust me, then?” he headed out to the kitchen, and grabbed a half-dozen fresh glasses, avoiding the crystal this time.
“Only as far as I can fuck you,” he caught the ribald grin, as he came back out.
He put five of the glasses down to the side, and sat on in the centre of the coffee table, “I can still bind your magick, you know,” he spoke, as he filled the glass with a fresh measure of water.
“You wouldn’t stoop so low.”
“Did you want to try me?”
“It’d take all the fun out of your life,” Ethan reached out for the glass, only to be stopped by Giles shaking his head.
“I though we could try it together, this time. Maybe, if we get it that way, then the rest will follow on.”
“In theory,” he turned Ethan’s own words back on him.
Ethan grasped the glass at the base, and Giles curled his fingers around Ethan’s, before they both opened themselves up. The trick with working non-ritual magick together, was to cover any holes that the other may have left. It meant being able to read one another, and it meant being comfortable with one another. On occasion it worked even better than that if the two, or three, or four or whatever number present practisers had known one another intimately.
The power was there instantly, just like it always was when they’d worked together. And the thrum of that connection alone, was damn close to intoxicating. He breathed in, could feel Ethan doing so at the same time. Closed his eyes, and focused, and could feel that from his opposite, too. Focused on the flavours from last time, and could feel the image solidifying.
They both opened their eyes in synch.
And Ethan’s open, warm grin which held no reserve about it took him back decades. To one of those moments before either of them had been scarred by life cruel twists. He reached out a hand, slowly, although unsure as to what exactly he was planning on doing – and the moment was gone as easily as it had come, as Ethan spoke.
“Well, it’s a drink again, at least. Did you want to…?”
“Want to what? Be a – the one to risk my palate?” The unsaid words ‘be a lab rat’ were killed, and he was glad he’d caught his comment in time. Even though it would have been in innocence, it still would have put Ethan into one of his darkest moods, something that he knew from past slips.
He dropped his other hand back onto his lap, and rose the glass to take a tiny sip, before handing it over to Ethan, who, after taking his own small sip promptly drained the rest of the glass.
Rupert rolled his eyes in response, “Typical. Self-centred prat.”
This time he didn’t look the least bit sorry, “My idea.”
“Yes, yes. Whatever you say.”
Ethan reached over the coffee table, and grabbed on the spare glasses, pushing the one that they’d used last time over to sit in front of Rupert.
“You’re looking at me. Why?”
“You’ve got that look in your eyes again, that’s why. That one which says that you’re planning something.”
“Still think that you can better me after that?”
“Yes, without a doubt.”
Ethan’s grin became a tad wilder and he refilled both of the glasses with water, “And just like that, it’s war old friend.”
“Oh please, no,” this time, it was out of mock-despair that Rupert shut his eyes, “what have I got myself into?”
A laugh answered him, and thirty seconds later Ethan’s glass was being pushed towards him. It was still clear, but that didn’t necessarily mean much.
And it was a good five minutes before Rupert delivered on his promise and held his own glass out to Ethan, and picked up the glass that he’d been given. He caught the other’s eye, and did a silent count-down from three on his fingers. And bugger it, but it actually did taste good. Although if Ethan’s expression was anything to go by, then he hadn’t done to badly himself. He finished off half the glass and handed it over, and Ethan did the same.
He finished off his own drink, and Ethan pouted at him, “Show-off. Course this round you’d pull one out of the hat. Gotta remember, I’m half-way to pissed already.”
“Excuses, excuses,” he said pleasantly.
Fifteen minutes, and another six rounds later they were disturbed by a knock at the door. Rupert frowned at Ethan, who was draped over the arm of the couch much like a painting by Picasso.
“Not at all. I’ve been a good boy. Haven’t invited any homicidal maniacs over for the last month.”
The knock sounded again, and Ethan raised an eyebrow, “So were you actually planning on getting that?”
“I was considering it.”
He sighed and pushed himself to his feet, “Don’t bother yourself. They’ll be gone before you find your feet, otherwise.”
He opened the door with-out bothering to check on who or what or was. The place was warded well enough that if it were anything or anyone that would present a risk then they’d have known well before they’d actually knocked.
He opened the door, and stood there for a good minute, frowning, as he tried to place the young man that was revealed on the other side. The young man, who stood, looking at him with much the same expression – surprise, and puzzlement.
“Ethan? I heard, but…” he trailed off into silence, “And why are you answering the door, anyway?”
“And I’m afraid I must confess that you have me at a loss. A know that I’ve encountered you, but as I’m no longer firing on all six cylinders tonight… and Rupert can’t even hold his wine when the alcohol content is of a rational level. Never could, and he obviously hasn’t improved with age.”
“It’s Xander,” the young man frowned, “you honestly don’t remember?”
He flicked his fingers and grinned as the puzzle pieced which had been previously floating around free-range clicked into place, and he saw in his memory a reasonably young man, just starting to his path in life. A member of what Rupert occasionally referred to as, when speaking about Sunnydale, as the Scoobies. Even though such a title was completely lacking in class.
And it wasn’t as often as one might think, that Rupert did talk about Sunnydale, and those years astray.
He wondered for a few seconds how he’d lost the eye, and decided that now wasn’t the time or place to be worrying about it.
He stepped aside, taking care not to issue any form of invitation, a habit which had saved his skin a couple of times in the past. And the young man, obviously knowing the game stepped inside anyway.
“Xander,” Giles turned on his seat and looked at him, as he came into the room, “not that I’m not glad to see you, but what brings you here?”
“Here as in to London, or here as in your home specifically?” Xander asked and shrugged, and Giles came to the conclusion that he was already too intoxicated to try and follow this conversation with any precision tonight. He knew that he couldn’t hold wine half as well as he could anything else.
And six of the glasses had gone as of yet, unemptied, maybe a mouthful being left in each.
“Here, specifically,” he decided. He was sure that he could remember the young man having mentioned something on the phone about a week ago that was to do with his coming over. In fact, he’d probably written it down, too.
“Just dropping by to see how you are, really. That’s all. I mean, I heard from Buffy that…” his gaze twitched towards Ethan, as the other man lowered himself back on to the couch again, “and she didn’t sound particularly impressed by said turn of events, so I guess I just wanted to see how you were.”
“As touching as your concern is, I do believe that I’m old enough to manage my own affairs. However, your may as well take a load off and stay for a little while.”
Looking uncertain of himself, Xander sat himself down at the extreme far end of the couch, as Ethan rolled a lazy cat-got-the-cream smile towards Rupert, “And you, dear, ought to forget about that damned footstool and make yourself comfortable on the couch before you keel off the bloody thing, too.”
A few years ago he’d have answered that with a comment reneging alone the line of bite me. But that was then, and this was now. And there was company, which was the ruling factor.
And as he settled himself onto the couch beside Ethan, who shifted slightly to the side for him.
“Don’t.” he warned, sharply, as the other twisted slightly towards the other end of the couch.
“Don’t what, Rue? I wasn’t doing anything. You’re getting overly cautious in your old age, is what it is.”
“Don’t do anything, don’t say anything. In fact don’t even think anything.”
“Who, me?” Janus only knew how he could still manage to look innocent.
“Yes, you. You’ve got that bloody look in your eye again. I know that look far too well, it’s only ever been trouble.”
“I don’t think he trusts me,” Ethan raised an eyebrow, as he swept the contents of the semi-filled glasses over the side and in with the rest of it.
Xander found himself watching with a horrified fascination. It was rather like driving past a car-crash; you knew that you really should look away, but you just couldn’t.
“So,” Ethan carried on, as though he hadn’t stopped, “what did you know about wine?”
The young man shrugged, “Um. It’s made from grape juice, and you can drink it?”
At that Ethan looked as though he’d been given an early birthday gift. And Rupert had a quiet prediction of coming disaster.
“Good. Good,” he watched as Ethan rinsed out a couple of the glasses again, and set them up, “an impartial judge. Rue and I were having a little competition just before yo showed up – seeing who could pull off the better brew. You can tell us what you think.”
At that, Xander frowned, “You know, you probably can’t blame me for this, but I’m not entirely keen on drinking anything that you might give me, Ethan. I know about the Fyarl thing.”
Ethan looked towards him, “Oh go on, Rupert. Back me up here. Please?”
There was no malice in it, he had to give his old friend that. And besides, “He knows what I’ll do if he tries to poison any of my friends.”
“So…” Xander looked from one of them to the other, “… you’re saying now that I should take candy from susceptible old guys that come up to me down dark alleys?”
He must already be more effected by the wine than he’d though, to find that actually funny.
“I’ll have less of the ‘old’ thank-you, boy. I’ll have you know I’m actually younger than our mutual Watcherly friend here.”
Xander looked surprised, “Really?”
Giles rested his forehead in his hand, “Really. He’s three years my junior, if you must know.”
Frowning slightly, he rinsed out another couple of glasses and stood them on the table. If he couldn’t talk Ethan out of this, then at least he could drink him under the table. All that it would take was a little drink separated out from the main lots, and an increase in the alcohol volume of that. And that shouldn’t be too hard – after all, the magic was coming a lot easier now. He didn’t think that he would even need to be in contact with the glass to pull that off.
Ethan still looked as though he were plotting something. But he decided to let it pass for now.
It only took another two or three glasses gone for him to realize that Ethan’s own plan must have been something along those same lines. Two or three glasses to realize that the fresh lots of wine were hitting him a lot harder than they should have been, too. And if the way that Xander was already giggling at nothing was anything to go by, then it wasn’t just he and Ethan spiking one another.
“Ethan?” he sounded.
And the mage gave him a knowing look, as he drained the rest of his own glass with slow deliberation. Bloody hell, but did the man know how nervous that that made him? And that wicked hint of smile gave him away.
Of course he knew.
Of course he was playing right into Ethan’s hands again.
“You appear to be spiking my drink Rupert. Again.”
“What?” Xander looked shocked.
“As if you can talk,” he batted the verbal ball back into Ethan’s court, “all that I was planning to do was put you to bed, and then come back down stairs so that I could have a conversation without having to worry about what you were up to. I doubt your reasons for attempting the same thing on both of us were as innocent.”
“On… both of us?” Xander found himself looking at the glass that he’d just finished sampling, and found himself unable to muster any concern. And he couldn’t care any less when Ethan’s expression became that silky smile and he found himself staring.
“No,” Rupert closed his eyes temporarily, “no. I’m not. You’re not. This… this isn’t going where I think it’s going… is it?”
Long, thin fingers coming to rest on his thigh. Artists fingers. A magicians fingers – and in far more than one innocent sense of the word.
And all that Ethan did was lean back slightly and smile, that predatory expression which had made countless other people shiver, and had never failed to get his imagination working overtime.
Too intoxicated to care.
And he turned towards Xander, “Tell me you mind and I’ll do the gentlemanly thing – take myself off to bed, and leave the two of you to finish off.”
The moment stretched, like a Slayer testing her muscles before a sparing match. And then the silence was finally, reluctantly broken, “Tempting, but…,” he fell quiet again. But still he didn’t move away, didn’t rise. And finally shrugged, “Ah, what the hell.”
The wine inspired a feeling of dissociation which was similar to the easy-going laid back mood that had come over him last time he’d lit up a joint. That mood in which nothing could possibly be wrong. And it was hard not to grin like the Cheshire Cat, as Ethan pushed him back and kissed him deeply and desperately, before drawing away and turning back towards their unexpected guest.
“Nah, I’m in,” giggled slightly, “as the saying goes.”
It was in his job description, really. Watcher. And Ethan’s displays of dominance were surprisingly rare, and another thing that never failed to turn him on. He could feel himself hardening as he watched those clever fingers casually slip back buttons, and push back shirt to revel a pale, well muscled chest.
Bloody hell, when did the sun get so bright?
And it was through both the closed curtain, and his tightly shut eyelids too.
He felt… well, aside from the hang-over, not actually that bad. And while the events of last night had been… unexpected, to say the least… well, things could have turned out a lot worse, considering the elements that had been involved.
After fifteen minutes under the shower he felt almost human again. And after he was dressed and dry, he found himself sitting on one of the sun chairs that Ethan had managed to slip out onto the balcony, not really asleep, but not completely awake, either. Just, more or less drifting.
A hand rested on his shoulder, and he glanced up, not that he had to in order to know who it was – there was only one person that had ever really been able to sneak up on him, although it wouldn’t actually be a hard task this morning.
“Just thinking about the past. Seems no matter how deeply I think it’s buried, it always seems to find a way back up. I mean, last night, that was more of less a scene straight from the history books, wasn’t it? Really, ever since… that night… everything has been. Our... disputes, the way we've been manouvering around one another...”
“Yes, the past is a shallow thing.”
He grasped Ethan’s arm higher, and tugged him down, taking the younger mans weight on his lap, “Almost as shallow as you are,” he ribbed, lightly, as Ethan reached up and settled an arm behind Rupert’s neck.. His free hand sort Rupert’s and he twinned their fingers together.
“I must be getting old. I’m actually enjoying this.”
The statement startled a chuckle from Rupert, “If that means that you’re old, then I must be really getting on,” then, as he sobered a little more the moment finally felt right, “I think I love you, you know.”
Another piece of the past, broke through into the present. And it had only taken a good decade or so to do it.